How did you decide to become a restaurant consultant?
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and working at Windows on the World Restaurant in the North Tower of the original World Trade Center, I had the opportunity to meet and ultimately work for Joseph Baum, who at the time was the most prominent and renowned restaurant consultant in the world who created many iconic New York restaurants.
My exposure to Joe and his team of industry giants who traveled the world helping organizations create new and exciting restaurants and unique dining experiences that changed how people used restaurants was my inspiration. I thought Joe had the ultimate career and I hoped that someday I would have the opportunity to leverage my knowledge and experiences to help others and become a restaurant consultant.
What was your best memory while attending the CIA?
My education at CIA was an incredible experience, and the Chef’s and instructors were fantastic. What made it memorable was the ability to take classroom education and skills and then apply them on weekends while working at Windows On The World Restaurant. For the first two months I was pitting olives in the Garde Manager Kitchen, and then one evening, there was a kitchen altercation, and the next thing I knew, I was making soufflés and decorating cakes in the pastry kitchen. Being avid skiers, The Chef and I hit it off immediately. As a result, he moved me around many parts of the kitchen, and I got an amazing education working in the busiest restaurant in the world.
A very close CIA friend managed to land a part-time job working on the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown NY, on weekends. Because all of the exclusive parties and events at the estate he needed a Co-Chef to assist in all of the food preparation and service. It was often a laid back event allowing us to get to know many of the guests as they were always excited to hang out in the kitchen and watch us prepare the food. From those experiences we got to know many political leaders and foreign dignitaries like Dr. Henry Kissinger and his wife who were regular guests.
What did you do after you graduated from the CIA?
After three years at Windows On The World, I decided I wanted to learn more about Dining Room Management, so when a new opportunity presented itself as a Maître D at a highly regarded restaurant in Theater District, I decided to make a career move. It was an old school restaurant with excellent table service and lots of tableside cooking. I was given the challenge to learn the business from another perspective and hone my dining room hospitality skills and improve the guest experience through elevated table service.
In the late ’70s, I decided to move back to Aspen Colorado and try and open a food service business with my close friend from the CIA. After carefully surveying the market we determined that the two big voids in the marketplace were catering and a need for a great bakery to service the local restaurants. Given the lack of real competition and affluence in the market, we believed we could be successful if we could raise enough capital to launch the business. We found a great location and obtained a small loan, which allowed us to purchase used restaurant equipment at an auction. We leveraged our education and work experiences and began catering private events and baking European style breads and desserts. As young entrepreneurs we made everything from classic charcuterie, croissants and wedding cakes to ice carvings and sold them to restaurants and hotels. The catering portion of the business began to get a lot of traction and we picked up many private parties from wealthy business people and celebrities like the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Lucille Ball, the Kennedy’s and several international political figures who had private aircraft and always wanted the best, so catering was always an over the top event.
In the late ‘80s, I was recruited by El Torito Restaurants, the largest Mexican dinner house chain in the world, to run all food service for a 220-unit organization with twelve restaurant brands and $420M in sales annually. Working for a national brand that was in a huge growth and acquisition mode and working with fantastic restaurant operators was a unique opportunity. My responsibilities were broad and included menu innovation for domestic and international restaurants, quality assurance, kitchen operations, training, and supply chain. This exposure to food, beverage and how to run highly efficient operations gave me the confidence and skillsets that I believed would be extremely useful as a consultant to small to mid-sized companies.
How did you make that transition?
I realized that I had obtained a lot of knowledge working for El Torito, and I had a great gift of helping restaurant managers be successful. As an entrepreneur I wanted to do more with my education and experiences so given the contacts that I had made in the restaurant industry I decided this timing was right to make a career move. I wanted to create a small restaurant consulting company that would focus on helping restaurant operators optimize their financial performance through menu innovation and restaurant operating efficiencies.
In 1988 I launched Synergy Restaurant Consultants. I was very fortunate (and lucky) to land several large accounts that occupied all my time. I knew it was time to expand, so I reached out to my close friend Danny Bendas and former business colleague who also happens to be a CIA graduate and industry professional, to join me on this new journey. Since then we had the pleasure of working with over 270 domestic and international chains and over 1,600 independent operators. Over the years our team has grown with talent from around the US and globally. I am so thankful for my business partner and the incredible team we have built. Their contributions have genuinely made Synergy a leader in the industry and a better company.
What is your biggest accomplishment as a restaurant consultant?
I wouldn’t say building a highly regarded national brand with an impeccable reputation and being recognized as industry leaders and subject matter experts in all areas of the restaurant business. Instead, I would like to believe that Danny and I, along with the rest of our team, make a positive difference in people’s lives. That is what brings me the most happiness and fulfillment.